Last week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a plan to increase the sales tax by a fourth of a cent in the French Quarter to pay for an increased police presence there.
It sounds like a good idea, in effect a kind of a targeted user fee. If you shop or drink in the Quarter, you pay the extra fraction of a cent to provide police protection to that very same area.
But as in most things, the devil is in the details. Landrieu wants the money to go to paying a contingent of Louisiana State Police troopers, not New Orleans Police Department officers. And that has made all the difference.
Donovan Livaccari, an attorney for the New Orleans branch of the Fraternal Order of Police, quickly called the proposal an insult to the NOPD’s ranks.
“Why should that money be spent on Louisiana State Police to come into the city, instead of on overtime for NOPD officers and better pay for existing police?” Livaccari asked.
There’s another controversial aspect to Landrieu’s proposal. As Livaccari put it, “French Quarter residents aren’t the only ones who are suffering through increased crime due to a huge staffing deficiency.”
There are murders, rapes and assaults happening all over the city, so singling out the Vieux Carre for special treatment may rankle residents of other neighborhoods. But Landrieu explains why, though all neighborhoods may be equal, some neighborhoods are more equal than the others.
“The French Quarter is an important economic engine for the city, region and state, and we will all have to do our part to ensure that it is a healthy and vibrant neighborhood,” he said when announcing the tax proposal.
The Quarter is the gem of the city; it’s the place people most want to see when they visit New Orleans. And despite what the rest of the state may have going for it in the way of cultural attractions, natural beauty and recreational opportunities, New Orleans is the place most visitors to Louisiana want to come to.
So, as the Quarter goes, so goes Louisiana, at least when it comes to tourist dollars.
If the city wants to continue to lure big conventions and national sporting events, it has to show the world that it is safe to visit — if not the city as a whole, then at least in the Quarter, its main attraction.
This is a form of trickle-down governance. The idea is that as the hospitality industry prospers, the city’s coffers bulge with new revenue, which can then be used to take care of needs in other parts of the city.
But so far — after a national political convention, a National Basketball Association all-star game, several Super Bowls and numerous college sports championships — that theory does not seem to have worked very well. The city’s streets are cracked and craggy, the water and sewer system is strained, and New Orleans still has a reputation as a dangerous place.
Part of that can be traced to Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, no doubt. Nearly 10 years after, we’re still dealing with that shock to our political system.
I’m sure there are people who will point to the Louisiana way of doing things as another reason. There’s a history of corruption and mismanagement that ensures that some public revenue will get whisked down a sinkhole and never be put toward the purposes for which it was intended.
But here we are again, up against the wall, flailing for some kind of solution. Landrieu’s proposal may have its problems, but no other credible options seem available at the moment.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.